Calgary is in the midst of a beer renaissance. Currently, a dozen breweries have either opened in the last 18 months or are slated to open soon. Here in Edmonton, we plug along with our mainstays—Alley Kat, Brewsters and Yellowhead—and cast our eyes over the horizon hoping for more. There are some positive signs: Situation Brewing just opened in Old Strathcona and there are two or three others in the works. Still, our progress pales in comparison to Calgary’s great leap forward.
There are a variety of factors for the difference. Calgary entrepreneurs have access to a deeper pool of capital than Edmonton. Plus, their white-collar demographic is more favourable to craft beer. That said, Calgary has undertaken a change that Edmonton should emulate if it wants to be smart about breweries.
A couple of months ago, Calgary amended its land use bylaw. Normally fairly arcane stuff, this bylaw governs what gets built where. The change was rather straightforward: the city added into the rules a new category of land use called “brewery, winery and distillery” and defined where small brewing operations can be located in the city. The new rules also expanded the development zones where a small brewery can be located, thus making it easier to open a craft brewery operation in commercial areas of the city where usually only restaurants and stores are allowed.
Previously, breweries were considered industrial manufacturing and were restricted to those far flung, population-scarce areas of the city. As you can imagine, that is a significant disincentive to open a funky little brewery with a taproom and growler fills—which is what the current trend is.
Edmonton’s existing bylaws reflect Calgary’s past. We have no clear definition of brewery and thus small craft breweries are relegated to the industrial zones—unless they are considered a brewpub, and then restaurant rules apply. Or a development officer decides brewing is not the primary function of the operation and allows it. Or a development appeal panel overrules existing zoning.
Confused yet? Aspiring brewers sure are.
Edmonton’s development bylaws were designed for a past era when breweries had to meet a certain minimum production capacity and were, therefore, larger-scale operations appropriate for industrial areas. However, things have changed and craft brewing today is far more eclectic and varied. Many new breweries—like those opening in Calgary—are smaller and aim to attract local traffic to their tasting rooms for a pint or two, a growler fill, or a couple of six packs to take home. They are more integrated into the community around them.
Provincial rules have changed as well. There is no minimum capacity anymore, which opens the door to nano-sized breweries, and the line between brewery and brewpub has become so blurred as to be irrelevant. Yet Edmonton’s bylaws still reflect a past age, and that is a problem holding Edmonton’s local craft-beer scene back.
So, city council: I urge you to take a good, hard look at Calgary’s new bylaw. I am convinced if we implemented something like it, it will remove a big barrier to our city catching up in the craft-beer revolution. V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.